David Edmonston was an 11-year-old student at the Fay School in a suburb of Boston in 1954 when Thomas Peebles collected blood samples and did a throat swab on David during a measles outbreak.
Peebles wasn’t exaggerating when he told him and the other children:
Young man, you are standing on the frontiers of science.
Using that Edmonston strain of measles, John Enders developed the first attenuated measles vaccine.
Enders’ measles vaccine was replaced by another live measles vaccine which was licensed in 1968. It used the further attenuated Edmonston-Enders strain and was thought to cause fewer side effects, such as fever and rash.
Ironically, Edmonston didn’t vaccinate his own son in the 1970s because his wife was “dead set against” having him vaccinated and he “went along.”
In a 2015 interview, Edmonston said that:
I quite understand why some people would say our decision was morally wrong. Also, having read about the more recent studies on vaccinations … I’ve changed my thinking and now agree with those who say that it is in each child’s best interest to be vaccinated, based on the statistical chances of infection and of apparent bad reactions.
Having attributed high vaccination rates for the reason why his son never got measles, Edmonston understood that “We knew that we were benefiting from a risk that was being taken by other.”
He also maybe undervalues the importance of his role in the development of the measles vaccine:
I did very little personally, but it makes me feel good to know that I participated in a medical project that helped the world.
Peebles and Enders weren’t able to isolate the measles virus from any of the other children at the Fay School.